First of all – we’ve had a great week in terms of numbers. As I write we’ve just tipped over 6,000 users, about 50% more than last week. There are just a hand full of constituencies with no users as yet, and we’re beginning to see good take up outside London. It would be lovely to see some more users in Wales and Northern Ireland. The numbers skew male, but we’re starting to improve the balance.We’ve had lots of attention over the last week too, with a TV interview for Sky News and even Internationally with German TV station ZDF. I had a big moment on BBC Radio Humberside. The Guardian have published the first story featuring data from WhoTargets.Me, looking at the way Gina Miller has been using Facebook ads to support her Best For Britain campaign.
Several news stories have broken about the digital campaign. The Tory party had a wobble when there was a hostile reaction to their social care policy. Their manifesto commitment seemed to show that some people would have to sell their house to pay for social care – a provision that’s been dubbed the ‘dementia tax’. This caused the Tory campaign to purchase Google Ads that appear when someone searches for ‘Dementia tax’. The adverts say: “The so-called ‘dementia tax’ – get the real facts.”, echoing Theresa May’s Trump-esque ‘fake news’ approach to Andrew Neil’s questioning on the topic. Some commentators pointed out that purchasing these adverts adds credence to the ‘dementia tax’ language, which Tories would be better to move away from (perhaps remembering the damage the ‘bedroom tax’ did). The story underlined the interest in the digital campaign within the media.
Possibly in response to Carole Cadwalladr’s Observer article on the Cambridge Analytica and the Leave.EU campaign, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into personalised adverts on Facebook. This enquiry is not about election law, but instead looks at breaches of data privacy legislation – looking at concerns around the way parties may be using troves of personal data to help them target adverts.
Meanwhile, The Independent has called for parties to disclose their targeted Facebook adverts. They persuaded Labour to reveal a (partial) snapshot of their Facebook activity, but apparently had no success with the Tories. The Independent describe the Electoral Commission as ‘essentially blind’ if it cannot scrutinise digital adverts. Their article also highlights a perennial issue with election campaigning: the categorisation of election expenditure as either local or national. Local campaign spending is very strictly limited, where the limits on national campaigns are so high that they tend not to be an issue. Obviously, this leads to a temptation to declare expenditure at the national, rather than local, level – regardless of its content. They quote the Electoral Commission as asking candidates to make an ‘honest and reasonable’ decision about whether expenditure is local or national. Decisions are probably mostly likely to be ‘honest and reasonable’ if they are also transparent and open to scrutiny.
All this activity is pointing to the increasing importance of digital campaigning and the need to ‘shine a light’ – so, if you haven’t already, please do install whotargets.me!